What Remains of Edith Finch: Database Aesthetics

Caniggia Taihuttu

What Remains of Edith Finch is a beautifully told story about the family Flinch in a visually pleasing game where the player is the protagonist Edith Finch who goes back to her family home where the Finches have lived for centuries. She returned because she wanted to solve the mystery of her family’s unfortunate demise in what seems as a curse bestowed upon every family member over the course of the last generations. Every important death family member has its own room within the house that is “locked” (which makes it feel like a mausoleum) and by details you encounter and rooms you visit for the first time you get information by information which you need to use to come to the conclusion what the curse is. To get a better grasp of this the first family member and thus death will be explained so we know how the game works and how the information streams tie the beginning and end of the mini stories.


The story of Molly Finch

The story starts with Odin Finch who tried to get the family house to America but died during the trip, his daughter Eddie survived the trip along with her husband and daughter Molly. After coming ashore they decide to construct a new house upon a hill that sees over the sea in which you can still see the old house upper parts towering above the waves. The first thing they built was the cemetery and then they began constructing the house. Back to the current time within the story the protagonist opens the locked door of Molly’s room (after the cutscene) and the first story starts as she finds the diary of Molly, the eldest daughter of Eddie Finch who died when she was 10 years old. The story puts Edith in the body of Molly as if you live in the last moments prior to the death of Molly and the scene that is presented is about Eddie punishing her daughter by sending her to bed without food. Molly wakes up a few hours afterwards as she feels hungry and she tries to persuade her mother to give her food who tells her it's too late and she needs to go to sleep. Molly creatively thinks about ways to feed herself like an old carrot from her Bunny, a full tube of toothpaste and eventually some strange berries. The story changes when a bird starts to knock on the window and the first assumption you make is that you fall out of the window while you try grabbing the bird but instead you transform into a cat and eat the bird and after this you transform again and you become an owl and you eat 2 rabbits, a shark next and eventually a sea monster that eats sailors. As a monster however you smell something good on the coast and by pipes you eventually come into the house again and hide under the bed, this is all the information you get about the death and you have to decipher what happened for yourself. If you looked close enough you saw every animal she transformed in her room e.g. stuffed animal, sea monster drawing and the combination between what she ate may tell us that she was hallucinating from the bad carrot and the toxic berries. The story however contains more than the hints presented as the animals as information laying around the room also gives away things about the story. An example for this is the goldfish Cristopher she mentions as she looks around the room for food who seems to be alive swimming around his fish bowl, the interesting part in this is that during the shark - seal transformation she mentioned the desire to tear the flippers and eat it, the sinister thing about this is that as the clues give away in the room it's late december and the pet cemetery shows the death date of Christopher to be the same year as that of Molly so the theory can be made that she already ate the fish and feels remorse. The game is full of these little narratives that change direction of what is presented in a timeless way as the main story doesn’t necessarily change because it can be unseen and the story will be told further. 

Tools of narrative: Software and Hardware 

Game engines keep evolving over the course of the last few years and it's the software that provides any game with it’s technical framework, it is responsible for everything within the game world and is the reason why What remains of Edith Finch give the user an immersive experience as if they are really in the surrealistic world. The AI of a game is also responsible for this immersion and the game does this by providing a world filled with little bits of information and detail that has value outside of the main storyline, an example for this is the lively atmosphere of the house that looks like it wasn’t left by its residents a long time ago and they were still in the process of living their daily life. You can really see that the game tries to create a world with compelling characters and narrative so the player get immersed in the experience and this may be the reason why the game scores so high on reviews as the gaming world has transcended into something more alike of the art world in which the invention of photographs saturated the market and they started to move into a more creative standpoint with new radical movements that used more color, light, textures etc. The game also does this by creating a surreal environment in which everything seems normal up until the point of seeing the house and it’s surrealistic tower of rooms and the strange scenes of the deaths that can feel like a bad trip, but these moments of going from 0 to 100 is also part of the set of rules the game provides you as it's not something you could translate into an answer without knowing how absurd the game can be and therefore the game is a good example of games that give you a “cultural toolkit” so you as player can get meaning out of otherwise vaguely interpreted meanings you learned on the outside world. This toolkit could be something like that many “family curses” in human history were actually inherited mental disorders that caused people to commit suicide earlier and in the game there’s a lot of characters that wear something that covers the wrists (only by knowing what the game is about you can translate the normal meaning of something like a “casket around the wrist” into something e.g. he tried to kill himself).

Gaming, art and Database Aesthetic

The game is a good example of how one needs to be conscious about all the information these days that overflow us and people need to develop the habit to process these large information flows thrown upon us, this is also the case in the modern day art and gaming industry. The game does this by providing the player with large amounts of information that you can choose to gather or not while you work to the common goal that can be solved by any of the information you picked as you progress. You can simply choose to ignore and “select” the information you want to use to solve the mystery and the outcome will still remain the same and the theory of database aesthetic as “A mode of inventory that prioritizes simultaneity over selection and probes the boundaries of contemporary conditions of attention” is therefore continuously seen in the choices presented by the developers for their audience. This is done by the player in the same fashion as the Vesna and Hanssen assignment to their graduates in which they had to make a database and the first step towards the end goal is to define what information flows are important of the many you have, this can be thought of as in the game progress or the making of the information database as Vesna and Hanssen presented during class. And like the class had many solutions towards the problems they encountered of dealing with the information the case can also be made for the 

game as you have many ways of solving the puzzle in different ways e.g. do you go for the narrative of the protagonist, the story of the death or the information in your direct surroundings? 

Discussion questions

  • If games can be part of database aesthetics can board games also be part of database aesthetics? 
    • (the reason why is for example a game like cluedo or monopoly also contains multiple information flows and a culture/language only known for the players (cards that you draw, the information on the board that can be understood with the rules etc). 
  • Are nonlinear narratives in popular culture as movies, games and novels a good example of database aesthetics? And why?